Last week, I read an article tweeted by @LindsayBellNYC. It was originally published in the Parenting Blogs section of the New York Times (http://goo.gl/rBrc9l ). In the article, written by KJ Dell'Antonia (@KJDellAntonia), seven tips are provided regarding how parents can help their thirteen year olds navigate the world of Social Media. While I am not going to rehash these tips in an in-depth fashion (you can click on the link if you wish to learn more), I will list them for you:
While this is definitely sound advice, part of me wonders whether parents should be exposing their thirteen year olds to Social Media. Granted, in our fast paced, technologically advanced world, teenagers accessing Social Media is an inevitability almost as guaranteed as paying taxes. Yet, according to an article entitled "The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families," published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 (http://goo.gl/zmcIv), "Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called 'Facebook depression,' defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression." The researches also point out that "adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for 'help' that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors."
Wow! Powerful stuff, indeed. While it is safe to assume that an overwhelming majority of parents would never intentionally expose their children to depression inducing technology, there no doubt exists a parental population that is unaware of the side-effects associated with adolescents accessing Social Media. A large part of the issue is attributable to the adolescent / teenage brain. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (http://goo.gl/fe2J21), the parts of the teenage brain "involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity."
It should also be noted that the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 prohibits Websites from collecting private information from individuals below the age of thirteen. Many websites have now stated in their terms of service that thirteen is the minimum age to create a profile and use their site ( "The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families," published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 [http://goo.gl/zmcIv]). This includes Facebook.
Now we have reached the crux of the issue: parents, in some cases, illegally providing access to Social Media, a world where emotional, impulsive opinions are spouted with great regularity, to their adolescent / teenage children whose brains have not yet matured to the point where they can regulate their own impulses.
Does this raise alarm for anyone else? It certainly does for me.
So, what to do? Ban our children from using Social Media all together? Accept the inevitability of its use by our adolescents, coach them as best as possible using the tips provided by KJ Dell'Antonia and deal with the fallout later?
Truthfully, I do not have a definitive answer. I suppose some combination of the above, banning our children from using certain Social Media while teaching them how to responsibly use the sites that we deem appropriate, would be the most prudent form of action. But, is this tempered approach even possible? Am I inhabiting some idealistic netherworld? Maybe.
As always, I am interested in hearing what you think. Please provide your comments below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.